Hope ya’ love it slow, hard and heavy, because the rebirth of CROWBAR is upon us.
Make no mistake: the massively influential merchants of sludge never went away. But as the band’s 25th year of existence dawns and their tenth full length album is unleashed upon the world, cofounder, frontman and riff-making warhorse Kirk Windstein is determined to give the band he unapologetically calls his “baby” the total dedication it demands. The unrestrained push and relentless concentration surrounding Symmetry in Black is music to the ears - figuratively and literally – for new adherents and the legion of underground fans and fellow musicians who swore allegiance to Crowbar long ago.
Symmetry in Black is the perfect album to arrive in the number ten slot of the Crowbar catalog, a penultimate achievement embodying the early sloth of doom touchstone Obedience Thru Suffering (1991), the moody dissonance of modern classic Odd Fellows Rest (1998) and the crisp thunder of the album’s predecessor, Sever the Wicked Hand (2011), with nuggets of Crowbar’s storied history sprinkled throughout.
The crushing signature sound of Crowbar is at its peak on Symmetry in Black, the band’s most diverse yet cohesive release. It was coproduced with fellow New Orleans resident Duane Simoneaux, who worked on Sever the Wicked Hand and mixed by Josh Wilbur, whose diverse credits include work with Lamb Of God, Gojira and Killer Be Killed.
“We needed to move our sound forward but at the same time, make sure everything stayed 100% true to who and what we are,” Windstein explains. “The album is heavy, dark and killer. There’s everything we are on here. It’s just Crowbar 2014. We’re really proud and excited. And where we stand with Crowbar right now, we can only go up.”
Crowbar’s influence looms over every doom band started since, even stretching to NWOAHM bands like Unearth, Chimaira and Killswitch Engage, whose bassist, Mike D’Antonio, did the artwork for Crowbar’s last album. Throwdown covered “Planets Collide” back in 2007. Underground bands like Primitive Man and Vengeful have tackled Crowbar classics, as well. Hatebreed covered “All I Had (I Gave)” and the band’s frontman, Jamey Jasta, is such a fan he started the Kingdom of Sorrow side-project with Windstein. He eventually came onboard as a Crowbar manager and advisor, as well.
The sludgy, swampy, boundary pushing, ball-busting spirit of Crowbar and their extended family is as synonymous with New Orleans as Black Metal is with Scandinavia, old-school hip-hop with the Boogie Down Bronx and hair metal with Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. The resilience of the hurricane hardened populace, the scent of slow-cooking seafood, the horrific haunts of The House of Shock and the ferocity of the never-sparkling, grim killers of Anne Rice’s old-school vampire books all lurk somewhere within the Crowbar sound, oozing with the primitive weight of Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus.
Windstein has cleared his calendar in order to put every ounce of his focus into what he lovingly calls “the family business,” charging full-throttle into worldwide touring in support of Crowbar’s new masterpiece, together with drummer Tommy Buckley (by his side for nearly a decade), longtime guitarist Matt Brunson and new bassist Jeff Golden.
“I’ve heard Lemmy say it and I’ll say the same thing: there’s been times where I was the only member in Crowbar, just like Lemmy in Motörhead,” says Windstein. “When we did the Lifesblood for the Downtrodden record [in 2005], there wasn’t a band. That’s why Craig Nunenmacher, who was in Black Label Society, played drums. And Rex Brown, who is still a great friend, played bass and produced. We jammed, but there wasn’t a band.”
Crowbar in 2014 is rock solid, with everyone in the quartet unified by a shared vision.
Crowbar’s New Orleans DNA is shared by their brothers in bands like Eyehategod, Soilent Green, Goatwhore and Graveyard Rodeo, who started around the same time. Each group is an innovator in its own right, markedly different from one another, but sharing some sort of intangible vibe. Rock has been in Windstein’s blood from day one.
“I was born in 1965 in England,” he explains. “We didn’t leave until ’66. My dad was there for the whole Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Beatles thing as a young guy in the Air Force. He was a Stones fanatic that was his favorite band. Elvis, too.”
Kirk Windstein fell in love with hard rock thanks to Kiss and Van Halen, before going headfirst into the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. The debut records from Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax were super important for him, too. It’s funny to think about now, but the man whose career has been defined by doom was once in thrash bands. But the deeper he delved into the Black Sabbath catalog, with a little extra spice from The Melvins seminal Gluey Porch Treatments debut and the crossover rumblings of the late Peter Steele’s pre-Type O Negative band Carnivore, Windstein found his muse.
Let everyone else play as fast as they can. “I ended up saying, ‘you know what? I want to do exactly the opposite.’ So I tuned the guitars as low as they could go. At the time, I didn’t even understand what gauge strings to use. Play it slow and as doomy as shit.”
He played in early incarnations of what would become Crowbar (operating under different names, like Shell Shock, Aftershock, Wreqiuem and The Slugs) with Jimmy Bower in 1989. Bassist Todd Strange was onboard before The Slugs renamed themselves Crowbar in 1991, with drummer Craig Nunenmacher and guitarist Kevin Noonan.
“Everyone hated us at first because we were doing something so different,” Windstein recalls with a laugh. “We’d turn up the volume know for the feedback, let a chord ring out at the end of a song and go right into the next one. I wouldn’t talk to the crowd. If we’d stop for a few moments, it would be crickets. Nobody knew what to make of it.”
Obedience Thru Suffering unveiled to the world what Crowbar had developed in New Orleans. The patronage of Pantera frontman and fellow New Orleans resident Phil Anselmo gave Crowbar a leg up. He produced their sophomore album, 1992’s Crowbar and wore a Crowbar/Eyehategod shirt in the video for the Pantera classic, “I’m Broken.”
Beavis and Butthead even featured Crowbar videos and Pantera took them on tour. Anselmo and Windstein joined forces in the supergroup Down, together with Strange, Bower, and Corrosion of Conformity’s Pepper Keenan. The band’s 1995 major label debut, NOLA, eventually went platinum with over 1 million sales in the United States alone. Down continued off and on for the next twenty years, releasing two more full-length albums, a handful of EPs and more. But as much as Windstein loved being in the band, he realized the scheduling was shortchanging his main priority, Crowbar.
“I am thoroughly proud of the 22 years I was in Down,” Windstein states emphatically, stressing his departure was nothing personal on either side. Sever the Wicked Hand enjoyed incredible reviews and put Crowbar on the Billboard 200 for the first time, but the momentum generated by the band and their label partners ended too quickly.
“As soon as that ball got rolling, I got an email that we were about to do this or that with Down. Do I miss Down? Of course I miss those guys, the music. I’m very proud of the legacy of Down. But Crowbar is my baby, my creation. Now that I have nothing to stop me from throwing nothing less than 100 percent into Crowbar, it’s a fantastic feeling.”
The 25 years of working on Crowbar in fits and starts has culminated in a renewed focus on world domination, embarked upon by a tightknit lineup sharing a common goal. “We’ve grown so close as a band since this became my biggest focus,” Windstein says. “I’m always open to side things here and there, like Kingdom of Sorrow, but nothing is going to stand in the way of what Crowbar does ever again. This is my musical focus.”
“We’ve gone through a lot,” he adds. “Our drummer had prostate cancer. What Tommy went through with his health brought us closer together, because we were there for him as friends. The morale has never been higher since we were kids. It’s equivalent to when me and Jimmy and Todd first got this thing rolling back in 1989. I’m hungry again.”